Hong Kong's workforce is losing its competitive edge but do aspirants for the first SAR legislature elections - who claim to be defenders of Hong Kong's interests - realise it is happening? As they are busy wooing voters, can they see the real threat to Hong Kong? Do they know it will hurt local workers more than the temporary setbacks brought by the regional financial turmoil? Increasingly, the international business community is complaining about Hong Kong's lowering English standards, and the SAR's tendency to become more sinicised. International businessmen recently cited examples of what they perceive as the changing character of Hong Kong. Unlike the past when they felt welcome, they are starting to wonder whether there is still a place for them in Hong Kong. From big events held by high-profile institutions to day-to-day social gatherings, expatriate businessmen have found Cantonese has replaced English as the main language for communication. One example cited was the annual dinner of the Hong Kong Tourist Association after the handover. Notwithstanding a large contingent of expatriate hoteliers and tourist industry representatives, all the speeches were delivered in Cantonese. What message did it send to the expatriate guests likely to be in a position to help promote Hong Kong's tourist industry? In everyday encounters, businessmen are also finding the courtesy of conducting conversation in English in the presence of expatriates is increasingly absent. For the international business community, this development has sent an alarming message: Hong Kong is losing its international flavour, throwing away its competitive edge. To the expatriates, Hong Kong used to have a good bilingual system, almost equal to Singapore's. But with locals' conscious or unconscious efforts to sinicise, that advantage seems to be fading. Such a perception is a worrying problem for Hong Kong and its workforce. If Hong Kong loses its competitive edge because of locals' urge to make the SAR more Chinese, and the workforce forgets how the use of English and the maintenance of the SAR's international flavour have helped to make Hong Kong tick, the ultimate sufferers will be the workers. Election candidates, who pose as champions of Hong Kong's interests, have to date failed to focus on this fundamental issue. On the labour front, the most important issue accorded by the candidates is unemployment. As they see it, the workers' plight is that they have been made redundant and are suffering financially. So the magic solution is for the Government to provide the unemployed financial subsidy, to abolish the labour importation scheme, or to create more civil service jobs to boost employment opportunities. If these demands were to be met, it seems aspirants would be content to believe they had done their duty by the workforce. As for competitiveness, they do not regard it a pressing issue for workers, and little has been debated during the campaigns. This is disappointing. The community expects these would-be community leaders to address not just the immediate, superficial problem of rising unemployment, it needs to know whether the candidates are capable of looking at the root of the problem and tackling it. This is what leadership means. Against the prevailing mood of economic pessimism, the instant approach will surely help Legco hopefuls win more votes in the election. But by ignoring the real issues they, together with those who support them, will pay a price because the problem of high unemployment is likely to stay.